|Elfquest: Rogue's Curse. Written by Wendy Pini, Brandon McKinney, and Bern Harkins . Illustrated by various. Poughkeepsie, NY: Warp Graphics, 2000. 1v. (unpaged). (Elfquest Reader's Collection, Book 9). $13.95. ISBN 0-936861-72-X.|
Rayek awakens to find his body in the form of a High One; Winnowill has gained in strength and is now able to speak to Rayek at will and exert her powers to some degree, though he fights her constantly, even giving up sleep in order to keep vigilant. One evening he and Ekuar drift into a human village, rummaging through "poor boxes" for supplies. A group of drunken humans shows up to tease them but are offended by Rayek's regal bearing. Although Rayek would have nothing to do with the humans, Winnowill forces him to attack them with his sword. He fights well but is outnumbered. Winnowill offers to "help," but he refuses, knowing how bad that help could be. However, battered and weakened, he cannot prevent her from destroying a couple of the humans.
In the desert, Rayek and Ekuar encounter a pack of wolves menacing a young woman. Rayek frightens them off (and fights off Winnowill), and the grateful woman, Finalla, promises a reward from her father. They ride to his camp, Rayek constantly battling his internal tormentor. At her father's camp, they meet Finalla's uncle Nari, who offers the two wanderers a job as guards, but Finalla claims that she's already hired them as her personal guards. Quietly, she passes along to her father Ret a vision of death from her grandfather and mistrust of Nari; Ret scoffs but agrees to keep on the two "spirits" as extra guards. That night, bandits attack the camp, and one makes off with Finalla. Most of Ret's guards are dead, and in an agony of indecision--guard the camp and the goods or rescue his daughter--Ret agrees to let Rayek and Ekuar fetch the girl. They succeed easily., but return to find the camp destroyed; Nari and his guards stole everything. As Ret blames Finalla for the disaster, the elves leave in disgust.
The wanderers enter another town, looking for work as guards to earn enough to buy a zwoot or no-hump. They are hired by the local madam, Mama, to keep order in her bar/brothel, and quickly endear themselves to Mama and her girls. However, local businessmen decide that Mama's house is undesirable. Also, the girls are very eager to bed Rayek, who knows better than to do so (humans can't stand the pace that the elves set), but is tricked into it by Winnowill, who claims she can help him be slow. He ends up injuring one of the girls.
In a portside city, Rayek and Ekuar rescue the fortune-teller Sherla from thugs. But when Rayek is forced to use magic to protect himself from the thugs' guns, Winnowill is briefly freed. She horribly mutates two of the thugs before Rayek is able to draw her back in. The next day, Sherla finds her rescuers in a tavern and gets them to come with her to the carnival where she works. However, two of the performers are the two mutated thugs, the skull-faced mind-controlling Faldar, and the ratman Moni. Though Sherla, Rayek, and Ekuar see the two as hideous, the rest of the audience sees them as normal. Rayek and Ekuar decide to accompany the carnival as it makes its way by train around the country; they want to keep an eye on the thugs. Sherla is pleased; she's falling for Rayek, and he for her.
A few days into the ride, one of the acrobats is stabbed to death. The carnival folk, prodded by Faldar and Moni, accuse Rayek. Confused and frightened, Rayek leaps off the train, but jumps back on to help Ekuar and Sherla. Atop the train, Moni confronts him and knocks him off again. He finds a horse and rides into Anglen, the train's next stop. Sherla tells him that Faldar and Moni were the murderers, and now they are locking up the performers as they finish their acts. They're planning to hypnotize the whole audience and rob them. Rayek is not sure he can handle the pair, distracted as he is by Winnowill; Sherla offers to try to hold her, but Rayek refuses. In the battle, Rayek is overpowered, allowing Winnowill to be released, but Sherla absorbs her. Rayek is thus able to kill Moni. Faldar, on the run, is trapped by Ekuar and left for the circus performers to deal with. Unfortunately, when Rayek gathers up Sherla, he discovers that Winnowill has devoured her soul. Given the choice of letting Winnowill stay in the empty body or killing it and reabsorbing her, he unhappily opts for the latter.
Time passes. Now openly walking human streets without trying to hide his physical differences, Rayek and Ekuar enter another city, looking for lodging. They discover that the Order of the Black Snake dwells in this city, waiting for the return of the "Redeemer," Winnowill. A constable confesses to the elves that his daughter has been sucked into the cult. Later, the Order confronts the elves and demand that Rayek release Winnowill. Though the elves defend themselves, Rayek is quickly overpowered, and Ekuar decides to escape. He follows the Order as they carry the unconscious elf to their castle. With Winnowill now in control of Rayek's body, she reshapes it into a female form, takes over the Order, and begins to either drink the souls of the faithful or mutate them into ghastly parodies of High Ones. Horrified, Ekuar meets up with the constable and formulates a plan. But many of the Order die before Ekuar and his human allies defeat Winnowill and render her unconscious, allowing Rayek to gain control.
Camping in the woods. Rayek takes Ekuar's advice and "goes out" to have a real conversation with Winnowill. The conversation goes badly, however, and Rayek is forced back into his body. He awakens to find the forest around him withered and dead. Up from the ground pops the troll Flam, whose wife Bupa has been rendered unconscious. Winnowill has drawn Bupa's soul into her prison. Her price to release it: a shard of the Palace that Flam and his sister had taken for themselves. The shard is in the mountains, protected by the still-hostile Mountain Trolls. The wanderers, with Flam carrying Bupa, set off to get it. Along the way, they are taken prisoner by a tribe of humans in the snowy part of the mountains. Winnowill steals the soul of the woman Melaan, forcing the leader of the tribe to accompany the wanderers. Soon, a motorized vehicle scatters the wanderers; Jone, the wife of the driver, Quintoc, goes to help Rayek and has her soul taken as well, forcing Quintoc and his daughter Ariana into the little shard-gathering party. Inside Rayek's head, the three stolen souls are getting along quite well, to the disgust of Winnowill. They make the mistake of discussing love, however, and Winnowill almost destroys Jone when that woman points out that despite Winnowill's protestations to the contrary, she must love Rayek. Soon, the wanderers reach the place where the shard is being held. The Mountain Trolls fight fiercely, but the band defeats them, and Rayek retrieves the shard. Winnowill immediately moves to join with the shard, leaving Rayek to free the women. Luckily, the shard rejects the hate-filled spirit.
The last story is a very short one created solely by Wendy Pini. Rayek is alone in a tavern, speaking softly to Winnowill within. One of the barmaids sees the hideous black evil that he contains, and a drunken patron attempts to attack him. Defending himself from the man with ease, Rayek finds himself in a much harder fight against his prisoner, and only with great difficulty does he prevent her from making him kill the man.
Inevitably, a comparison can be drawn with the Elric of Melnibone series. Elric is a pointed-eared, doom-laden wanderer cursed with an evil that he'd love to get rid of but can't; Rayek is a pointed-eared etc. etc. One wishes Rogue's Curse had come first, however, because it's superior to Elric. The writing is better, the basic problem behind the main character's "doom" more compelling, the sidekick more important to the story, the women more self-assured, the hero far less whiny. Also, because so much time passes, we get to see the evolution of the world that would someday be known as Abode and the changing attitudes of the humans who have swarmed over it. I got a kick out of seeing the various technological devices being employed; who'd have imagined Rayek and Ekuar riding in a train or even in a primitive motor car? Of course, in The Rebels, Skyward Shadow, Jink, and Mindcoil, the Elfquest universe moves into the realm of science fiction, but I've always wondered what happened on Abode during their equivalent of the twentieth century, and Rogue's Curse appears to be moving in that direction.
I have a few quibbles with the book, the most serious being the episode at Mama's brothel. The story is clearly unfinished, as one expects action to result from the decision to close Mama's, but that thread is not resolved. Was a story section left out? Or was this really the story in its entirety? (I hope not--publishing a story with that much of a hole in it is not the Pinis' style at all.) Another quibble is that while the various stories are worthwhile reading, I'm beginning to miss the large-scale, tightly plotted epics that characterized the Pinis' earlier works. Finally, on the whole, the humans were just a little too accepting of Rayek and Ekuar, a little too willing to forgive them when Rayek seems to do something outrageously evil, such as when Winnowill absorbs the womens' souls. Heck, they seem surprisingly blase when Ekuar uses his rock-shaping skills.
The art is uniformly good, and it's very nice to see Wendy Pini's hand solely responsible for some of the pages. However, the final short piece that she provided was obviously in full color at one point, and the black-and-white reproduction isn't as good as it could have been.
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